“I’ve just started reading.”
“Where’d you get it?” he asked. “Ruth?”
He looked over at Myrna’s New and Used Bookstore.
“Rosa. Ruth was asleep in the philosophy section.”
“Asleep or passed out or …”
“Dead?” asked Reine-Marie. “No, I checked.”
“No farmhouse on top of her?” Olivier asked, placing Gamache’s ginger beer on the table.
“Merci, patron,” Armand said.
They sipped their drinks, absentmindedly ate the nuts, and read about a town in Scotland.
* * *
“Oh, my God,” said Myrna, looking around.
She was stopped dead in the doorway of the Royal York bar, causing a bit of a jam behind her.
“How many?” the young woman asked.
“Three,” said Clara, looking around the stationary bulk of Myrna.
The two perspiring women followed the cool, slender maitre d’.” Myrna felt like a giant. All big and galumping, disheveled, and fictional. Not really there at all. Invisible behind the siren showing them to their table.
“Merci,” said Clara out of force of habit, forgetting she was in English Ontario and not French Québec.
“Oh, my God,” Myrna whispered again as she dropped into the plush wing chair, upholstered in rose-colored crushed velvet.
The bar was, in fact, a library. A place Dickens would have been comfortable in. Where Conan Doyle might have found a useful volume. Where Jane Austen could sit and read. And get drunk, if she wanted.
“A beer, thank you,” said Myrna.
“Two,” said Clara.
It felt like they’d stepped out of the glare and throbbing heat of twenty-first-century Toronto into a cool nineteenth-century country house.
They might be giants, but this was their natural habitat.
“Do you think Peter had an appointment in Samarra?” asked Clara.
Her voice was flat, in a way Myrna recognized from years of listening to people trying to rein in their emotions. To squash them down, flatten them, and with them their words and their voices. Desperately trying to make the horrific sound mundane.
But Clara’s eyes betrayed her. Begging Myrna for reassurance.
Peter was alive. Painting. He’d simply lost track of time.
There was nothing to worry about. He was nowhere near Samarra.
“I’m sorry I said that,” said Myrna, smiling at the waiter who brought their drinks. Everyone else in the bar seemed to be having some sort of smart cocktail.
“But did you mean it?” Clara asked.
Myrna considered for a moment, looking at her friend. “I think the story isn’t so much about death as fate. We all have an appointment in Samarra.”
She put down her beer and leaned across the mahogany table, lowering her voice so that Clara had to lean forward to hear her.
“What I do know for sure is that Peter’s life is his. Stay in the marketplace. Go to Samarra. His fate. Not yours. Would you take credit for anything wonderful Peter’s done in this past year?”
Clara shook her head.
“And yet you think it’s your fault if something bad happens.”
“Do you think something bad has happened?”
Myrna was about to say, slightly exasperated, that that wasn’t her point. But looking at Clara she knew it wouldn’t matter. Clara needed only one thing, and it wasn’t logic.
“No.” Myrna took her hand. “I’m sure he’s fine.”
Clara took a deep breath, squeezed Myrna’s hand, then leaned back in the wing chair.
“Really?” She searched Myrna’s eyes, but not too deeply and not long.
They both knew Myrna had just lied.
“Is that her?” Myrna asked, and Clara turned in her chair to see Marianna Morrow approaching.
Clara had first met Marianna when Peter’s sister was living a bohemian life in Cabbagetown, an artist enclave in Toronto. She was pretending to be a poet and trying to catch the attention of her disinterested parents. Her weapon of choice was worry.
The young woman of equal parts abandon and desperation had so imprinted herself on Clara’s brain that she still expected to see that Marianna. It took a few moments to realize there was gray in Marianna’s hair, and while she still looked like a poet, she was in fact a successful designer. With a child. And the only one of Peter’s family Clara could stomach. And that only barely.
“Marianna.” Clara rose, and after introducing Myrna, all three sat. Marianna ordered a martini, then looked from one to the other.